The Guardian

Yet another death shows system fails to protect women

- Alexandra Topping

Last night Smeaton’s Tower, a lighthouse on the waterfront in Plymouth, was lit up purple in a move to draw attention to violence against women following the death of 18-year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod.

In the past year vigils have been held for Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, for Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. Candles have flickered in windows, tributes have been shared, and women have protested in the streets after the high-profile killings – knowing that millions of other instances of abuse would never make a headline.

As another murder investigat­ion opens following the death of another young woman, figures published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal the scale of the violence.

The ONS has pulled together the first comprehens­ive set of statistics on violence against woman and girls in England and Wales into one corner of the internet, with the charity SafeLives highlighti­ng the human cost of the statistics with real-life stories.

The stats reveal that about

1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales in the last year. In the year ending March 2020, 81 women were killed in a domestic homicide. The ONS estimates that one in three women over the age of 16 in Great Britain were subjected to at least one form of harassment in the last year, a figure that rises to two in three for women aged 16 to 34.

The national stalking helpline for England and Wales, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, received 871 calls in the year to April 2021, up 14.9% from the previous year.

Charities argued that the coronaviru­s pandemic worsened an already dire situation, and the statistics bear that out. Calls to the national domestic abuse helpline in England rose by more than a fifth during the pandemic, with the charity Refuge getting 49,756 calls in the year to March 2021.

And yet, according to Women’s Aid, high demand meant that 63% of referrals of women to refuges in England, and 34% of referrals of women to refuges in Wales, were declined in the year to March 2020.

Against a backdrop of growing fear and outrage over high-profile cases this year, the criminal justice system’s abject failure to protect women has been laid out starkly.

In the last 12 months just 41 extra suspects were charged with rape by the Crown Prosecutio­n Service (CPS) compared with the year before, but the figures for prosecutio­n of domestic abuse continue to drop. Police referrals of suspected domestic abusers to the CPS fell 3%, to 77,812, and the number of CPS prosecutio­ns fell for the fifth consecutiv­e year.

In June this year the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey showed that 89% of women in Great Britain who had experience­d harassment said they felt “very or fairly unsafe” walking on their own after dark.

After every murder, every vigil, the government has insisted it is radically changing how violence against women and girls is tackled with a new strategy. But in the wake of the death of yet another young woman, radical change cannot come soon enough.

 ?? ?? ▲ Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered in March by a police officer
▲ Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered in March by a police officer

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